The Mail sat down with Mayor Heather Colberg for a question and answer interview to review the year that has passed as well as discuss what is coming in 2019.
1. What would you consider the biggest success of Council in 2018?
The downtown plaza, the Celebration of Excellence, the Economic Taskforce, having all Committee of the Whole meetings recorded. I have never seen so many people in Drumheller willing to step up and make this community a better place for all.
Giant steps towards town clean up. Re-working the community standards by-law to address derelict buildings. Creating a new tourism corridor by-law to beautify of tourism corridors. Advocacy and lobbying. The Festival of Lights has really come along nicely. The downtown plaza has evolved with lots of potential to be developed further and the Roger Brooks presentation provided us with an image as to what we can be. Most notable though, is the seemingly less negativity amongst residents, albeit the need to still spin this further. Looking forward to what we can accomplish in 2019.
2. One obvious success is the downtown plaza; it proved to be a positive space for residents and visitors. Are there plans to make it permanent? Are there any other visions for downtown Drumheller?
Yes, this spring we will use the space where the Elks building is (and soon to be was). We will be using the space this year to see how it works. The goal is to follow along with Roger Brooks where there is a place to congregate and hold activities throughout the year as well as beautify the streetscape in downtown.
3. How does the plaza play into a larger tourism strategy?
The plaza is for both residents and visitors to Drumheller. Many of the most successful nights last year had the plaza filled with residents enjoying the music and company. It was wonderful to listen to people visit with other residents they haven’t seen in months. I was excited to hear these comments. We see the plaza developing a larger community feel as well as bringing visitors downtown to enjoy our warm hospitality and great shops and restaurants in the downtown.
4. If we are a tourist town, are there lobby efforts being made to our MLA for service/ signage improvement?
Yes, we are working with the province to enhance the services we provide to residents and visitors by improving tourism-related infrastructure, including signage.
5. Flood mitigation and mapping have been at the forefront of many residents’ minds. Can you give an update on measures taken?
We are changing the channel on flood mitigation. We are grateful for the flood-mapping grant we just received. Council and administration have been working hard to lobby both senior levels of government on enhanced funding for flood mitigation in the valley. Included in the work from 2018 is updating the emergency management plan, conceptual design on the approved dike projects in downtown, east Midland and Newcastle, and the start of a communication plan for residents on how to plan for emergency events, including floods. We started publishing information last month and will continue in 2019.
6. Council is looking at a 5 per cent cut across the board in its operating budget, how might that affect residents?
It is too early to tell. We are looking at items that may reduce service levels in some areas such as reduced mowing in some parks or changing the hours of operation for the BCF or Aquaplex. Those discussions will come forward as part of the 2019 budget discussions in February.
7. Is there a concern that with a new provincial government that there is a possibility of austerity budgeting?
Unfortunately, in the present political atmosphere, none of us can be sure what the future will bring. We have started talking about it at council and what we would need to do if provincial funding was cut significantly. While we can’t predict what the measures from the province could look like, it might mean reduced funding for road maintenance, social programming, and general operational funding.
8. Are you expecting smooth negotiations as the unions begin contract talks?
We are starting our discussions this month so it would be premature to discuss any union negotiations in public
9. With the downturn in the provincial economy, what bright spots are you seeing locally?
We are excited to have an Economic Development Officer in place early February and with the support of the Economic Taskforce and the Economic Advisory Committee, Chamber and Community Futures, and other organizations, together we will find ways to help our community. I speak with many mayors and councillors and we are all struggling in this area.
We are seeing some commercial construction in town as well as businesses improving their facades. There has also been an increase in oil and gas wells in the valley, which is good to see. We see a new Marks building going up and the renovation of the building on the corner of Highway 9 and 10. We will have a new microbrewery in 2019 and we have seen some restaurants expand. Of course, we all want to see more businesses locate to the community, which is the reason for the Economic Development Officer. We are also excited about the tax incentives we approved late last year.
10. How will the move to the new infrastructure shop improve town services? What are the plans for the old site?
The old shop was in need of many repairs and was well past its prime. It is always nicer to work or live in a place you feel good about coming to every day and we hope that our staff feels that way with the new facility. Our plans for the old site will be to eventually turn it into residential housing as it is surrounded on most sides by residential properties. As well we are excited the position of Director of Infrastructure will also be filled in February of this year.
11. Are we getting closer to purchasing a new snorkel truck?
The new truck will be purchased in 2019.
12. Are there any plans for major infrastructure projects in the coming year?
We will be constructing the flood mitigation works in the Newcastle, east Midland and downtown areas this year
13. Can you outline priorities for road projects?
Completing the reconstruction of the last leg of Hunts Crescent and various asphalt overlays of streets are the main focus for 2019.
14. What do you foresee as the greatest challenge facing Drumheller in 2019?
I think the ability to get everything we want to be done within the constraints of the budgets we have to work with.
15. Issues with the Aquaplex last year were certainly challenging. Are there any measures that can be taken to ensure more reliability?
Both issues were the culmination of the same leak and were related to the construction of the pool. Certainly, the second leak was completely unexpected. Now this item is repaired, we don’t think there are measures that can ensure more reliability. A comparison at home would be the hot water tank springing a leak. You can’t plan for this but need to react as quickly as possible to restore service if it does leak.
16. Affordability of town facilities is a concern expressed. Can you tell me some of the ways the town and other agencies are making sure residents and families have access?
The town has had a program for several years to assist individuals and families on a low income to attend the BCF and Aquaplex. We are also working, through FCSS, on a poverty reduction strategy to help people attain the resources they need to live.
17. Are there any plans to the abandoned the CN line?
We have been engaging with CN on the rail line. We are expressing to them the advantages to both CN and our community. We have had continuous communication and we will continue to keep this line of communication open.
18. There have been ongoing issues with wilful damage, theft of property, (even squatters). Are we seeing any turnaround?
This is an issue with all communities in Alberta. Community groups such as Citizens on Patrol are a great asset to both the community and the RCMP and help be the eyes and ears for our residents. The more people we have on the street helps show criminals that we are paying attention and we care and they will move on. I encourage people to contact COP to see if/where they can help.
19. Residents are grateful for the town’s mosquito abatement program. Is the town able to continue with the program?
There are no plans to discontinue the abatement program.
20. Are there any other major concerns/ accomplishments issues you would like to address?
Continue to work on tourism corridor and community standards by-law. Keep working towards the vision to be the cleanest, friendliest, most sought after community in Alberta. This council and administration are committed to reviewing the by-laws, policies, etc. to make the community a place where people want to live, work and play.